The environment and urban adolescents' use of recreational facilities for physical activity: a qualitative study

Am J Health Promot. Sep-Oct 2008;23(1):43-50. doi: 10.4278/ajhp.07043042.


Purpose: Investigate environmental factors influencing the use of recreational facilities for physical activity by urban African-American adolescents.

Design: Qualitative in-depth interviews and direct observation.

Setting: Two public high schools and 24 public recreational facilities in Baltimore, Maryland.

Participants: Forty-eight African-American adolescents aged 14 to 18 years.

Methods: Data from 48 in-depth interviews and 26 observations were coded using NVivo software and analyzed using the constant comparative method.

Results: Facility use is influenced by characteristics of the physical, social, organizational, and economic environments. Adolescents are attracted to low-cost, well-maintained facilities that offer preferred activities and that are within close proximity to home. Adolescents with limited access to facilities use alternative play spaces, like the streets or vacant lots, where they risk injury from falling or being hit by a car. They are drawn to facilities where they find active adolescents, and they avoid those where young people are engaged in drug or gang activity. Concerns about facility safety largely determine use, particularly for adolescent girls.

Conclusion: Previous research points to the importance of increasing facility availability as a means of promoting physical activity, particularly in minority communities in which availability is disproportionately limited. This study shows that, while availability is important, additional facility characteristics should be considered when using environmental change to promote facility use for physical activity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • African Americans / statistics & numerical data
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Environment*
  • Exercise*
  • Facility Design and Construction
  • Female
  • Health Promotion
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Public Facilities / statistics & numerical data*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Recreation*
  • Residence Characteristics / statistics & numerical data
  • Safety
  • Sex Factors
  • Social Environment*
  • Urban Population / statistics & numerical data